I'd like to first point out that these are just my opinions, and that they are coming from a place of solidarity and not of experience. I am not trying to speak for sex-workers - I am only trying to start a conversation! I think it's necessary to actively think about these things in order to make any real shift in consciousness.
Sex Work is Real Work
We are constantly bombarded with the message that sex workers are troubled. Watching day-time television I have witnessed Dr. Phil repeatedly demonize sex work and those who participate in it. It’s dirty, and dangerous; they must have suffered as a child or lacked a fatherly figure. The two-dimensional stereotype attached to sex-work is ignorant and perpetuates a culture of violence against innocent people who are just doing their job (which there is and likely always will be a market for, I might add).
There may be risks that come with a line of work which often requires secrecy and vulnerability (to some extent), but to assume that sex workers must be emotionally damaged or lack self-respect is dangerous. Stripping human beings of their agency as makers of their own lives actively victimizes them and encourages hatred of sex workers and all those who support the line of work. Where there is hatred, there is violence – more frightening, there is violence that is ignored by the public or dismissed as just “what they were getting themselves into.”
And these consequences reach farther than just those who practice sex work. During the American election debates surrounding government subsidized contraception, Rush Limbaugh said that a woman who wants the government to pay for her birth-control is a slut and a prostitute in that she is trying to be paid to have sex (by the taxpayers). Limbaugh used the stigma surrounding sex work to undermine women’s voices – he capitalized on the demonization of prostitution in order to silence those women trying to gain equal opportunities in the work force. But women deserve their voices to be heard – and we deserve to make our own choices without fear of having them used against us violently or politically. Sex work is work. It’s real work. It’s a way to make a living, sometimes and for many people, it is a way out of the poverty trap into which they were born.
That is not to say that sex work is always a “last resort” or that it is only ever for the money. I am hopeful that society may be moving in a direction which recognizes sex workers as people whose jobs are not all tragic. Strippers, prostitutes and porn-stars alike often enjoy their work - as can be seen in the film Magic Mike (sex-workers that like their job?! Who knew!) But the stigma attached to (particularly female) sex workers is still the butt of endless jokes and ridicule without enough representation (I can’t think of any female sex-worker film characters that are portrayed as more than a one-dimensional stereotype).
Recognizing sex work as real respectable work is going to take a real shift in our public consciousness. It requires us to think before we make problematic comments or assumptions. It requires a more diverse and accurate portrayal of sex-workers in media, and less stigmatization on shitty day-time talk shows. Sex workers must be granted the right to demand space in society to define their own lives and experiences – they should be the ones discussing their work, not some pseudo-psychiatrist who has never walked mile in their heels before. The sexualisation of female bodies means that all women are seen as “whores” (Rush Limbaugh). This is problematic for two reasons: firstly, women are more than their bodies, and secondly, whores must no longer be viewed as lesser women or persons. All women are not whores, but all whores are human. When sex work is the chosen work of an autonomous person that is reason enough to respect it.